How clarity feels

I have always had a tumultuous relationship with music. I started playing violin before I was able to form memories, and grew up with music as an integral part of my life. I burnt out on it in college, even though I was studying vocal performance. I graduated in three years, mostly because I wanted to be done and get on with it, whatever “it” turned out to be. I stopped playing violin for a few years. Only recently, since I’ve been in Minneapolis, have I played it with any frequency again. Now I use music as a tool for others. I haven’t though I use music for myself. I’ve resigned myself in the last few years to thinking of music as a job, albeit a creative and fulfilling one. I have had trouble really identifying myself as a musician. I’ve always thought that I would have to know more in order to identify as one. I’d have to be better able to work with music theory. I’d have to know about more bands. I’d have to write a certain kind of song. Essentially, I’d never be able to truly be a musician, because I don’t have the time, energy, or interest to be or know all these factions of music.

Only this week have I had something of a revelation in regard to my relationship with music. What if I re-position myself? What if I acknowledge that the way I compose my music, the way I play, and certainly the way I sing and use my voice to connect with others really is music? I don’t write songs in the traditional way. I don’t analyze fugues (anymore). I don’t remember a whole lot of the music history I once learned, even though I did find it fascinating. But I do engage with my own music on a daily basis. I use music as a means to communicate and find meaning where I can’t otherwise. I use music to soothe, calm, excite, and energize. I use it to regulate my own energy. I use it in myriad ways, really, and I find it emerges in very natural, unique expressions, given the needs of the circumstance. I do use music. I use it for others and for myself. I take this opportunity to re-create what music is in my eyes.

Do you have trouble identifying yourself in a way that you think you should?

In honor of National Autism Awareness Month: What music expresses

Several of the clients I see have autism. Some use speech to communicate, others do not. Some find the ability to express their needs through various gestures, some sign language, and other physical indications; others do not. Some of them have a combination of verbal and physical communication. Most of my clients with autism, however, find ways to express themselves within and through a musical medium.

By providing a client with a variety of instruments, both melodic and rhythmic, I find that I can notice a trend in the way he or she plays an instrument. Choosing melodic over rhythmic might give me some insight into a client’s emotional state; perhaps this client is feeling a need to explore different sounds within this timbre. Maybe he has more expressive tendencies at this time that only a melodic instrument can allow. If the client is playing in a very high register, I might believe that he is expressing happiness; in a low register, maybe the client feels sluggish or down. I may interpret the choice of a rhythmic instrument in a variety of other ways. When the client plays with staccato strikes, I might believe he is angry or frustrated. If the client’s tempo is quick, with light strikes, I may think he is feeling anxious or scared.

The information that is relayed through music will usually facilitate a better understanding on my part of a client’s emotional state. Musical conversations can at times ensue, but other times a client might need to simply vent to me. My job is to absorb all of this information and find the best way to validate and support this musical expression, and continue to do so throughout all of the transitions and various challenges my clients might face.

Christmas instrument wish-list

I could go on and on about what instruments I think I need, but I have to say that I am preoccupied by needing and even wanting a 3/4 dreadnought, also known as a “baby” Taylor or Martin. 

Music, the co-therapist

Music is such a great co-therapist. What a revelation for a music therapist to have.

I can know this, and have known it intellectually, for years, but much of the time I have trouble trusting that the music in my music therapy sessions works more effectively than anything else.

One of my clients tonight had a lot of trouble transitioning into our session together. So much so that he balled himself up into a chair and decidedly did not communicate with me, verbally or otherwise. I sat with him in quiet before laying out a number of instruments, including the drum sets and kits on GarageBand (a favorite of his). I then played piano for a few minutes before he unwrapped himself and explored the instruments in front of him. Soon we had a conversation on our instruments, and I’ve never felt more connected to this client than I did tonight. Though he’s able to communicate verbally and has done so unabashedly in the past, we related to one another differently, and seemingly more clearly, tonight.

It’s nice to have another therapist in the room.

Kind of like that dollar bill trick Johnny Cash did

I felt like a fantastic guitarist today because I wore a sweater.

I’ll explain.

If you play ukelele with any variety of strum patterns, you know that there are quite a few patterns that use muting or slapping. (I’m sure there are correct terms for these techniques, but I just don’t have them on hand right now.) I’ve never been great at that kind of strumming, but I’ve always loved it. Today, while at my first site, I noticed I was affecting my guitar strings the way I’ve always wanted to affect my ukelele’s — all because my sweater was getting in the way of my strumming.

I’m glad that that Saturday-after-Thanksgiving-that-doesn’t-have-a-name Sale got me something good.

I was adding suspensions and letting my sweater do its work all day today, and alas, I wasn’t boring myself with the guitar skills I have.

What will I do in the summer, when there are no sweaters to be worn?

Subway flash mob

I feel rather distant from a number of things lately, but this is because we are so busy getting together the rest of our wedding planning. Obviously I haven’t been writing daily; but I’ve been working daily.

Last week’s UPS included:

  1. Acquiring new clients
  2. Seeing my once-a-month clients
  3. Setting up a high school student observation
  4. Acquiring new instruments and materials for the little ones I see each morning
  5. Getting a $15.00 discount at a children’s store, just by using foursquare

Last week’s NOT-SO-UPS included:

  1. Learning that I won’t be seeing a really special client after the Spring session
  2. Becoming frustrated with my (in)ability to continuously engage my little ones
  3. Becoming frustrated that I’m finding it more and more difficult to separate my wedding planning from my every thought
  4. Realizing I can’t keep up with everything I’d like to be doing right this minute
  5. Succumbing to feeling overwhelmed

Have a good week, everyone.


The bells will be ringing

I have missed blogging with my regularity this past week, however I am in need of any extra time I can find; I’m getting married next month and I have ohsomuch planning yet to do. So, with this upcoming, life-changing event (a wonderful one), I am going to post to this site only once a week in this month of May. I’ll see how life treats me in June…

This being said, I have to say I was heartbroken when I heard this news story, and I want to share it. (Not because I want you to be heartbroken, too, but because I find it a notable story.)

Oops! Stradivarius cello broken in accident…

Sayuk on Friday

I had the opportunity to participate in what I will call an “arts in-service” at the site of the life enrichment contract I hold in Dundas, MN. I was excited for the day because I knew we’d be experiencing some gamelan music, however I had no idea to what extent that experience was going to be. Joko Sutrisno of University of Minnesota School of Music provided a basement-full of the instruments he uses to perform, teach, and show. He spent a little more than two and a half hours teaching this room full of staff members, most of whom declared they weren’t musical, how to play one four-line “piece” he calls Sayuk, meaning “together in harmony.”

Here is a video that explains more about gamelan:

Aloha to the uke

I am back on the mainland! I spent the past several days on Maui, and returned yesterday afternoon. Needless to say, Hawaii is a wonderful place. Several times I saw people lounging on the beach with their guitar or ukelele.

The only souvenir of Hawaii I wanted to bring home with me was a ukelele. Now that I am working primarily with small, young children, the size of the ukelele and its portability makes the instrument very appealing. I shadowed one of my ukelele-playing music therapist friends working with children, and I decided then and there that the instrument was essential.

Knowing that I was about to depart to Hawaii, I decided I’d pick one up there.

Meet Duke.

While in Hawaii, I attended one group class designed for beginners. I didn’t get any new skills from this class, so I took a private lesson from someone at Lahaina Music, where I purchased my uke.

Aloha and mahalo!

Ukelele horizon

I finally re-strung my guitar with silk and steel strings. I’ve been playing steel strings since I’ve been playing guitar, and find that I’d like some subtler sound. I’d like a classical guitar with nylon strings, but, actually, I’d rather get another instrument before another guitar. A ukelele would be fantastic. It just so happens that in March, I will be in Hawaii for a vacation that seems likely to produce for me said ukelele. Or so I hope.